"How hard was the wind today? It blew over the Port-O-Let toilets." --Golfer Tom Watson Sawgrass did her glorious stuff today: thunder, torrential rains, and winds that gusted up to 40 mph, blowing over trees, scoreboards and toilets.
"A fun day at Sawgrass," said weary Tom Watson, tied with Lee Trevino and Steve Melnyk in second place at 140, a shot behind coleaders Hale Irwin and Curtis Strange after two rounds of the $440,000 Tournament Players Championship.
"It's the last time we'll ever play here. Heck, let it blow 50 miles per hour," said Watson, whose 71 was one of only 12 rounds that broke par, compared with 54 on Thursday. "Let Sawgrass get in a few last licks."
Everything that Sawgrass stands for was summed up today by the diabolical 416-yard fifth hole, which played 99 strokes over par. It was the Godforsaken corner of this course where many a round went down the tubes and every leader faced a crisis.
"Number 5 is the toughest driving hole in the world," said J. C. Snead, tied with Gary Player, John Mahaffey and Greg Powers at 141, two shots off the lead. "If that don't make you draw up and take pause, you're not human."
"Only the toughest driving hole?" asked PGA Commissioner Deane Beman. "I'd have said it was the toughest hole anywhere, any way you cut it."
"You could have stood on the fifth tee today and laughed and giggled yourself silly," said Irwin. "Of course, you'd probably have gotten a couple of drivers buried in your skull."
"There's an awful lot of scary shots out there, shots where you look at what you're being asked to do and you're totally stunned. You just want to get it over with quick."
On a day that began with rolling black storm clouds and a 63-minute rain delay, only to finish in gorgeous warmth, bluebird sky and vicious winds, the pros were left at the mercy of their psyches throughout.
"It's a second-guessing game," Irwin said. "You're never sure you have the right club in your hand."
"It's hard to pull the trigger out there," Watson added. "You can't bring yourself to hit it. But the worst problem is that you lose patience. The wind gusts and changes your rituals, so you feel uncomfortable and get irritable."
"No, no, the toughest thing is putting with the wind blowing in your ears," Snead offered. "I may try ear muffs."
"Nah, nah," disagreed Trevino. "Short putts scare you the most. The wind ruins your balance. At least I've got big crowds around my greens. They really cut the wind. It's the poor guys with no galleries who feel like they're on a mountain top."
So Trevino putted well?
"Are you kiddin?" quipped Trevino. "I lipped out a one-footer on the sixth hole. The wind stopped and I almost fell over."
The only sufficient response to such conditions is unadulterated heroism. Every leader stepped off the course with a haggard face and blow-dried hair standing on end.
"I had to scratch, claw and beg for 73," Melnyk said.
"I only hit 10 greens and saved five pars with one putts," Watson added. "That's all right. Adversity should bring out your best. Good players usually win in the wind."
Perhaps the ultimate example today of what Sawgrass demands, and how it rewards the courageous, was Irwin at the evil fifth.
From the tee, with the wind in his face, Irwin needed to carry the ball 200 yards on the fly to clear a lake. The slightest deviation left or right would bounce the ball into swampy jungle, containing every Everglades critter, that no machete could dent.
Behind Irwin, 200 yards away, the Atlantic roared. Only 20 yards away, cars passed, playfully honking their horns.
"It all grabbed me," said Irwin. "I hooked it into the hazard."
After Irwin took a penalty shot drop in the rough, the skies opened and play was delayed from 9 a.m. to 10:03 a.m.
For 63 minutes, Irwin had to study one of the toughest shots imaginable: wind in the face, downhill stance, one foot in mud, ball in the rough, 192 yards to the pin, trap in front of the pin, and water in front of the trap.
Irwin also had to thread his one-iron between two palmetto trees only six feet apart.
"I was shivering in a wet sweater and the more I looked at it, the harder it got," Irwin said. "The trap kept getting deeper and deeper, the green smaller and smaller, and that water kept getting wetter and wetter.
"Finally, I just had to stop thinking about it."
What did he do?
"Went to the Port-O-Let."
When Irwin faced his shot, at last, he "would have been peachy tickled with a bogey. Double or triple bogey was very real. I could have thrown away the whole tournament."
Instead, he slashed the ball dead on the stick, leaving it a yard from the hole for a tap-in par. "What can I say?" Irwin said, grinning through his braces. "It was a particularly great one-iron."
Gumption is the common denominator of the leaders here.
"You're so scared that you can't pay attention to the leader board or anybody else. The wind and the course is enough," said Strange, from Richmond, whose 68-71 -- 139 has been accomplished with clubs that had to be fished out of a canal two weeks ago at Inverrary.
Strange's pluck then was proven when, needing a par on the 36th hole of the tourmament to make the cut, his caddie fumbled seven clubs out of the bag and off a bridge.
While a frogman dove for the clubs, Strange made his par using a two-iron to drive and avoiding any shot that required more loft than a five-iron because he didn't have any.
"They finally had to dredge for my seven iron," said Strange, "but I've got it again."
The faint of heart fold up fast here. At the par-5 18th, Watson faced a simple short sand shot to get up and down for a birdie. Instead, he fluffed the blast, leaving the ball in the trap, then barely got the ball onto the green's edge with his next blast.
Would Watson's round turn to disaster, as Jack Nicklaus' did when he made double-bogey after a perfect drive on the par-5 11th and stumbled to a 73 that left him in an eight-way tie for 10th place at 142?
"I chugged it twice . . . just stuck the pick in the ground, like they say," Watson said, shrugging. "But you have to keep grinding."
So he dropped a 22-foot par putt into the center of the hole.
On days like this, a certain serenity at the center of a player's personality may be a key to his survival.
Watson demonstrated it with just two holes to play. Walking down the fairway, he veered into the gallery and into the backyard of the condominium he is staying in.
His wife, Linda, brought their 6-month-old daughter, Meg, out in a perambulator. "I had to come see you!" said Watson, kissing the baby.